Purcell, Pat and Norma

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                                         PAT AND NORMA PURCELL
                                    Irish by birth, Canadian by choice
                                          By Joanne Cadogan


MIRAMICHI – Pat and Norma Purcell did something most neighbors will never do this week. They swore an oath of allegiance to the Queen and turned their Irish and English citizenships into dual citizenships as they became official passport carrying Canadians.

Being Canadian is something most Miramichiers don’t think about. It’s a birthright. But to Pat and Norma Purcell, making the effort to do the paperwork and pay the $200 a piece citizenship fee is an overdue homage to the country they’ve chosen to call home.

Pat and Norma Purcell moved to Canada from England with their eldest children in 1973.

Pat Purcell, born in Ballingarry, Thurles, Tipperary County, Ireland, had left his homeland years before in search of opportunity. At that time, having a promising future in Ireland required fluency in Gaelic, and Pat could see no point in pinning his prosperity to a dying language.

So he left for England, where he eventually met and married Norma. However, neither were particularly impressed with their career options there either. “If I was working in the theatre I would have said I was between jobs at the time,” Pat Purcell said with a characteristic smile as he hunched over a window seat at Joe’s Diner, where he is proprietor. “The fact is I had just quit one job and just gone to another when I saw an advertisement in the newspaper – The Times, I think – advertising jobs with the Bank of Montreal in Canada.

“I never worked at a bank but I went to Canada House for an interview. I had worked for accountants and done cost control and a variety of different managerial jobs up to that point, which they must have found acceptable because they offered me a job.”

That settled the family’s fate. Pat and Norma had considered emigrating to New Zealand and Australia, but Canada won out with a job offer they couldn’t refuse.

“I was supposed to go to the Ontario region, but by the time we’d gone through all the paperwork and arrangements the priority on hiring had shifted to Atlantic Canada, so two weeks before we left we were told we’d now be moving to Saint John, New Brunswick.

“So we arrived here, me, my wife, and my children. We didn’t know a soul in the place. We didn’t drive. We stayed at the Colonial Inn and lived on fish and chips for three weeks. That, at least was familiar. Then we found a house and moved to Manawagonish Road.

“Thank God for Sears. The only thing we had when we arrived was our cutlery, some crockery and our personal items. It would have cost too much to ship anything else.”

Just 11 months after starting the task of furnishing their home and settling into Saint John, Pat – who was in the Bank of Montreal’s administrative manager training program – was transferred to Chatham.

                       Emigrating generates some regrets, but few

Pat and Norma Purcell sometimes regret making the decision to move to Canada from England 23 years ago. Neither have returned to their homelands since.

“It was tough particularly in the beginning when it was difficult to keep in touch with our families,” Pat said. Because Pat and Norma moved so frequently and their families in Britain were moving around at the same time, some of the couple’s brothers and sisters have been lost. The brothers and sisters they managed to keep track of keep in touch by phone now that international calls are affordable. But there are times when a phone call is not enough and the cost of travelling to England or Ireland is too expensive.

“Sometimes we regret leaving. It is stressful, especially when you have illness and people are dying. That’s tough. You can’t be there and letters don’t convey anything.”

But regrets are few. “This is a great life here. It’s a lovely country. If it wasn’t for the damn snow it would be perfect,” he said with a laugh. “The people are tough as nails. They’re survivors. At the same time they’re great people, great fun, with a great sense of humor.

“The way I look at it, I’m Irish by birth, Canadian by choice and I get to live on the Miramichi. I’m a lucky man.”

                          Purcells finally finished paperwork

“Over the years we’d gotten the papers to apply for Canadian citizenship five or six times,” says Pat Purcell. “But each time we’d get the papers we’d look at them and get disgusted at something that was going on, or we’d get lazy, or we’d find something else to do and just never ended up filling them out and sending them in.”

That delay cost the couple. Pat Purcell remembers when he first picked up the Citizenship applications forms it cost $10 to see the process through. When the Purcells started the ball rolling on the process this past March, they discovered it would cost them $200 each, plus $35 to $40 a piece for passport photos. But they decided to take the plunge anyway.

The couple received some books with 250 interesting facts about Canada which they were told to study for their citizenship exam.

Earlier this fall they got to call to go to Moncton to write their tests. “We were told there was no point trying to cheat on them because everyone had a different set of 20 questions,” Pat said.

“I can’t remember most of the ones on the test I wrote. One was: Who was the first prime minister of Canada? And it was multiple choice – Pierre Trudeau, John A. MacDonald or Lester Pearson or something like that. We were told we had to get 60 percent on the test, or 12 questions right.

“Then they gave us a nice envelope with an invitation to attend citizenship court on Nov. 6. We were told if we failed the test, we’d get a letter telling us not to show up.”

The Purcells received no such note, so they attended the Wednesday ceremony. “It was lovely, very tastefully done,” said Purcell. “There were 21 people there from 12 different countries. There ceremony was about an hour long and at the end they called us each up and gave us a certificate suitable for framing and a card that said we were Canadians.

“It was really very nice.”

                            First year one of wild extremes

The Purcell family’s first year in Canada was one of wild extremes.

“That first summer I nearly burned myself alive,” Pat Purcell said. “The temperature must have reached 95 degrees. I’d never had heat like that before and I spent all the time I could baking in it. “Of course I blistered and some helpful soul suggested putting ointment on the burns, which led the blisters to puff up more. The doctor told me if I had been in the army he would have said I had self-inflicted wounds. Apparently the ointment sealed the blister rather than allowing it to breathe as it should.”

That uncomfortable summer was followed by a winter of record snowfalls. “It was our first time in Chatham and I remember we couldn’t get to the bank to open it for three days because there were huge snowdrifts at the foot of Henderson Street the plows couldn’t punch through. It snowed for days and the drifts were six to eight feet high. And it was cold, -30. I remember Norma and I saying that was the only thing we could find wrong with Canada – it was bloody cold.”

Despite this shortcoming, the family stayed and proceeded to make their home in a variety of Maritime communities as Pat was transferred to Charlottetown, St. Stephen, Dartmouth, Dalhousie, and eventually back to Chatham again.

In that time, the Purcell family grew by one – their youngest daughter is now 15 and a student at James M. Hill. That last transfer proved to be the end of the road for Pat. His job was eliminated in a nationwide downsizing effort.

For the first time in 22 years the bank wasn’t deciding where in the Purcells would live. “My wife and I had some time and we decided for better or worse we’d take a shot at Chatham.”

Shortly after that the Purcells did something they’d been intending to do for some time. They applied for Canadian citizenship.


Source: Miramichi Leader Weekend – November 8, 1996

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